USO preparing care packages for troops

Cookies will melt in the desert and aren’t being sent, but lately the most popular care package items for American troops have been handiwipes, global calling cards, disposable cameras and swimming goggles — not to swim but to keep sand out of soldiers’ eyes.

That’s according to the USO of Metropolitan Washington, which is readying 10,000 care packages.

“We’ve heard so many troops say that it’s so nice to know that people are behind you, and they’re not forgotten overseas,” said USO-Metro D.C. spokeswoman Beth Bradner.

But military mail is different from the last war, when the American public could send letters and packages to unspecified soldiers so no one got left out at mail call. Heightened security after anthrax mailings stopped “Any Service Member” programs more than a year ago.

E-mail correspondence to unspecified soldiers have been revived for the general public, and mail privileges continue only for family members and close friends of deployed soldiers — only they can obtain the military zip codes for units in Kuwait and nearby countries.

The USO program is also one way individuals can help out.

“If you do not know anyone, you cannot send packages. That’s where we step in,” Bradner said.

USO has launched a web site,, through which persons can make $25 donations to sponsor a package and give a personal message that is transcribed on official USO postcards.

“Baby wipes, the little handiwipes. We’ve heard from units on the ground that those are sold out at the mini-PX’s that they’re setting up,” Bradner said. “They’re selling out of Que-Tips. We’re trying to fill the gap. I just got an e-mail from someone the other day that said goggles are wonderful because of sand.”

For disposable cameras, the USO learned 800 film is bad because it is ruined by the X-ray machines, she said. They have taken corporate sponsors like AT&T for global calling cards and suppliers of movies, music CDs, miniature footballs, sunscreen, playing cards and sunglasses, she said.

Like the last war, soldiers get free mail from the region, defense releases state.

Letters from family to Kuwait normally take 7 to 10 days, according to the Military Postal Service Agency.

Contraband such as alcohol, tobacco and pornography are confiscated if sent. In the Middle East, pork products and pork byproducts are not allowed.

Bradner said interest in sending support overseas has been building and Thursday they took a lot of calls.

“Operation USO Car Package will continue for as long as our country is at war,” said USO-Metro President Elaine Rogers. “This program is possible because of the support of individuals, corporations and organizations that donate funds to sponsor these care packages.”

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